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Spring means be aware of rabies

An interaction with wildlife can seem like something magical, an experience akin to being in an animated Disney movie. With the advent of social media, such encounters have gone viral, even pursued with the goal of becoming an online sensation.

But experts in Michigan warn against the potential dangers of wild animals that seem all too willing to get close to humans.

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Bats and skunks are the most common carriers of rabies in Michigan. The state had 79 cases of rabies in 2018, including 77 bats and two skunks.

As of Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Laboratories has identified rabies in five bats and two skunks among 928 animals tested.

Between May and September, bats are more active, searching for food and rearing their young. While bats are beneficial to the ecosystem, they also are among the species most likely to be host to the rabies virus.

People or pets usually get exposed to rabies when they are bitten by an infected animal. Other situations that may present a risk are when a bat is found in a room with people who have been asleep, or a bat is found with an unattended child or an impaired adult who cannot be sure they didn’t have contact with the bat. In these cases, it is important to collect the bat for rabies testing.

Rabies is fatal to humans. Protect family and pets from rabies by taking these simple steps:

— Avoid contact with wildlife. Do not keep wild animals as pets and do not try to rehabilitate wildlife yourself. Wild animals can carry rabies without looking sick.

— If a wild animal appears sick, report it to the Department of Natural Resources online at Michigan.gov/eyesinthefield or at 517-336-5030.

— If bitten or scratched by an animal, seek immediate medical attention and alert the local health department. A directory of local public health departments is available at Malph.org.

— If a bat is found in the home, safely confine or collect the bat if possible and contact the local health department to determine if it should be tested for rabies. More information on how to collect a bat safely can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

— If unable to confine or collect a bat, or unwilling, consider hiring a bat/wildlife removal service.

— Protect pets by getting them vaccinated against rabies. Even cats that live indoors and never go outside need to be vaccinated, as they can encounter a bat that gets inside the home.

— If a domestic animal in your care is bitten or scratched by a wild animal or believed to have had unsupervised contact with wildlife, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if the pet is vaccinated against rabies, additional actions may be needed to prevent infection. If possible, safely confine or capture the wild animal without touching it and contact the local animal control officer or veterinarian, as the animal may need to be tested for rabies.

More information about rabies and a map of rabies positive animals in Michigan can be found at Michigan.gov/rabies.

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